10 Feb 2023

Exiled USP vice-chancellor returns to Fiji after ban lifted

2:08 pm on 10 February 2023
Pal Ahluwalia is welcomed home at Nadi on Friday morning

Pal Ahluwalia is welcomed home at Nadi on Friday morning Photo: Supplied/USP

The banished vice-chancellor and president of the University of the South Pacific, Pal Ahluwalia has made an emotional return to Fiji.

Professor Ahluwalia arrived into the country with his wife Sandy Price at Nadi International Airport and was greeted by university staff, students and supporters.

"We have arrived in Nadi," Ahluwalia tweeted after disembarking the plane.

"What a fabulous reception. USP staff, students and so many well wishers to meet us fills our hearts with joy. Beautiful singing and prayers. Thank you Fiji," he added.

He has returned for the first time in more than two years, after being controversially deported by the former prime minister Frank Bainimarama's FijiFirst government in February 2021.

"I am so proud of our students, staff and alumni and the welcome we got just shows how beautiful this country is and how beautiful the people are," he said.

"The next step for me is to work with my senior management team to make sure we get the best out of our students and the region."

According to USP, Ahluwalia's trip will include attending several events and meetings, including the launch of the alumni relationship management service and the welcoming of international students.

He is scheduled to visit two university sites on Friday to meet with staff and students.

Since his deportation, he has been running the university remotely based out of Samoa at the Alafua campus in Apia.

"We are really excited to have Professor Pal back, even though I'm nervous because I'm going to garland him but this is an opportunity and we're very excited and happy about it," USP Student Association Lautoka Campus representative, Hannah Kumar who was part of the welcoming party said.

Ahluwalia's return was made possible after Fiji's new coalition government announced in December that the Australian academic will be free to return to lead the regional institution.

Prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka has said he is ready to meet Ahluwalia personally and apologise on behalf of the people of Fiji for the treatment he received by Bainimarama's administration.

Rabuka has also promised that his government will release all outstanding monies owed to the USP - almost FJ$80 million - which the previous government had withheld due to the falling out with Ahluwalia.

Pal Ahluwalia at Nadi on Friday morning

Pal Ahluwalia at Nadi on Friday morning Photo: Supplied/USP